Pilot Products: Active noise-canceling headsets

We review the best headsets available today

April 1, 2010

Active noise-canceling headset reviewsFinding the right headset is a fine art. Between the various features, and that one critical component—fit—it can be difficult to find the one for you. We looked at all the high-end over-ear headsets available today and reviewed them here in one place. With the exception of the DRE-6001, all cost nearly $500.

Less expensive active noise-canceling headsets can be found, but not limiting the criteria would have meant including upwards of 15 models. Many of these also represent the best sellers, illustrating that pilots often equate price with quality. For even more headsets, check out our online guide. ( keyword Headset Review).

Beyerdynamic HS600 DANR

Beyerdynamic is new to the high-end ANR market, although the company has been making audio equipment for decades in Europe. Two unique features are the ability for the buyer to customize the look and its adaptive ANR technology. In an effort to both save batteries and adapt to different frequencies, the ANR system senses the level and frequency of the sound and adapts to it, at times even turning off completely. Includes an external audio interface.

Specs:
Weight—11 ounces
Battery life—25 hours minimum
Warranty—five years
dB rating—Up to 40
Price: $749 with customization
Contact: www.beyerdynamic-usa.com

Reviewer comments:
Ian J. Twombly, associate editor, Commercial, CFII, 1,050 hours
“I really love the fact you can customize these to your liking. That, in combination with good sound quality, makes for a competitive headset.”

Pros:

  • Does a great job of taking out low-frequency rumble
  • Customization is unique and fun
  • Extremely comfortable

Cons:

  • Adaptive ANR takes some getting used to and changes the ambient sound enough to make you question if the engine is even still running

Bose X

Considered by many to be the gold standard of aviation headsets, the popular Bose X is also one of the most expensive headsets available. The Bose X is available in either a powered-panel version or with batteries, and features dual volume controls.

Specs:
Weight—12 ounces
Battery life—Up to 40 hours
Warranty—five years
dB rating—Not released
Price: $995
Contact: www.bose.com

Reviewer comments:
Patrick Haller, AOPA director of marketing planning and analysis, Student pilot, 50 hours
“It’s as close to not wearing a headset as you can get.”

Pros:

  • Comfortable
  • Great noise suppression
  • Small battery pack on portable unit

Cons:

  • Most expensive of the group
  • Fewer features than some competitors

David Clark H10-13XL

The company with the green headsets has an unmatched reputation for quality and durability among its entire line. For many pilots, a David Clark is their first headset, and the company is trying to capitalize on that owner loyalty with higher-end ANR products. An auxiliary music interface doesn’t come standard on this model.

Specs:
Weight—18 ounces
Battery life—Up to 25 hours
Warranty—five years
dB rating—39 to 44
Price: $771, can be found cheaper online
Contact: www.davidclark.com

Reviewer comments:
David Jack Kenny, manager of aviation safety analysis for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, Commercial, 1,250 hours
“The addition of electronic noise-cancelling circuitry noticeably cuts the background noise and improves sound reproduction compared to the passive David Clark I’m used to without a noticeable increase in weight.”

Pros:

  • Better fidelity and quieter than comparable passive model
  • Solid David Clark construction

Cons:

  • 9-volt battery
  • Extremely sensitive to mic placement
  • More than twice as expensive as the passive model

DRE-6001

Although not as well known as others included here, DRE Communications has been making headsets for years, and the DRE-6001 is the least expensive we reviewed. It features dual volume control, a stereo/mono switch, gel ear seals, and an auto shutoff mode.

Specs:
Weight—16.5 ounces
Battery life—20 hours
Warranty—three years
dB rating—42 to 44
Price: $462.95
Contact: www.drecommunications.com

Reviewer comments:
Dave Hirschman, senior editor, ATP, CFII 5,500 hours
“The DRE-6001’s steel-band frame is rugged and built to last.”

Pros:

  • Solidly built with mil-spec components
  • Lightweight battery pack

Cons:

  • Mic boom length doesn’t adjust
  • Adjusting frame length requires setting two friction locks

Lightspeed Zulu

Lightspeed has been toward the top of the headset charts for years, but the Zulu has a clear shot at beating the Bose X. With more features, such as Bluetooth and an auxiliary audio interface, it offers more functions at a lower price.

Specs:
Weight—13.9 ounces
Battery life—Up to 50 hours
Warranty—five years
dB rating—Not released
Price: $850
Contact: www.lightspeedaviation.com

Reviewer comments:
Ian J. Twombly, associate editor, Commercial, CFII, 1,050 hours
“The Zulu is probably the most comfortable headset I’ve ever worn, with no pressure points, even after three hours.”

Pros:

  • Incredibly comfortable and quiet
  • Bluetooth means never having to worry about hearing when calling for a clearance on your cell phone
  • Seems to have a good universal fit

Cons:

  • Price, although less expensive than some, is still high
  • The case is hard and offers good protection, but is too large to fit in many flight bags

Sennheiser HMEC 460

Sennheiser has been making some great headsets lately, and the HMEC 460 is a top-of-the-line model for general aviation pilots. It includes an auxiliary audio interface, a feature called NoiseGard, to protect the user’s hearing from loud sounds, a boom mic that can be worn on either side, and an inline volume control. Owners of turbine aircraft should try the on-ear HMEC 26, a great headset that weighs less and has less clamping pressure.

Specs:
Weight—13 ounces
Battery life—30 hours
Warranty—10 years
dB rating—41
Price: $877, can be found cheaper online
Contact: www.sennheiserusa.com

Reviewer comments:
Bruce Landsberg, president, AOPA Air Safety Foundation, ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, 6,000 hours
“There is a definite improvement in long-term wearability over the earlier Sennheiser ANR headsets.”

Pros:

  • Very good ANR
  • Comfortable after long flights
  • Excellent battery life, auto-battery shutoff
  • Replaceable earpads

Cons:

  • Typical high ANR pricing relative to less expensive passive headsets

Telex Stratus 50

The Telex Stratus 50 has all the hallmarks of a great ANR headset. It has incredible hearing protection through both passive and adaptive noise-reduction technology. It has multiple adjustment points for a close fit, an auxiliary music input, and a boom microphone that can go on either side. However, the ANR on our first test model didn’t work. We received a replacement with working ANR, but didn’t have time to fully evaluate it.

Specs:
Weight—18.5 ounces
Warranty—five years
dB rating—50
Price: $719, can be found cheaper online
Contact: www.telex.com/aircraft

Reviewer comments:
AOPA corporate pilot, ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, 13,000 hours
“Telex offers a good headset that rivals in quality with Bose. I would be able to comfortably wear this headset for an extended period of time without becoming fatigued as you do with so many headsets on the market today.”

Pros:

  • Very comfortable
  • Great passive noise reduction
  • Very high audio quality

Cons:

  • Batteries difficult to remove from control box
  • Heaviest headset of the bunch
Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly | "Flight Training" Editor

Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.